Scientific Origins of Whole Body Vibration

Trace the history of vibration exercise machines and you can find the person who originated the concept of exercise machinery and health clubs.  In the height of the Victorian era, Gustav Zander (1835-1920), a gymnast, orthopedic physician and inventor from Sweden was one of the originators of “mechano-therapy.”  In the 1860’s he established the Zander Therapeutical Institute in Stockholm.  In 1880 he became a lecturer at Stockholm University and in 1896 he became a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

He designed over 70 special apparatus for therapeutic exercise.  Zander exhibited his Institute in Philadelphia at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition where he won a gold medal for his exercise machines.  He established Institutes in 146 countries by 1906.  By 1910 “ample numbers of Americans were familiar with the machines.”  The machines were in health sanitariums and some were privately owned although quite expensive.  These machines had steam powered gears, springs, weights and some of them used vibrations to activate muscles.

A 19th-century scientist named Jean-Martin Charcot, who is considered a founder of neurology was one of the first to discover and report positive effects of vibration on the human body.  In the 1880’s and 1890’s, he observed the positive effect of vibration application on Parkinson’ disease patients.  He designed a vibration chair that he set up in his waiting room.  In 1892 he published in Scientific American his research for a “casque vibrante,”  a vibrating helmet.

In 1894 Dr. John Harvey Kellogg was a physician, surgeon, inventor and author.  You may recognize his famous invention: Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and appreciate him for being a “father of health food.”  He created a method to make peanut butter, the first acidophilus soymilk, imitation meats made from soy flour and soy bread.  Nutrition was only a part of his thorough approach to all aspects of health.  He offered a range of wellness therapies at his Battle Creek Sanitarium.

He designed medical devices for surgery, massage and physiotherapy.  He used vibrational therapy to increase blood circulation and passive exercise.  Kellogg invented a vibrating chair that oscillated 20 times per second to stimulate the vital organs of the abdomen to aid digestion and relieve constipation.  Today this chair can be seen at the Kellogg Discovery Center in Battle Creek, Michigan.

In the 1960’s the Germans realized health benefits of vibration technologies and developed an exercise technique called rhythmic neuromuscular stimulation.  In former East Germany, Dr. Biermann experimented with the use of cyclic massage and its effects on trunk flexion.

The Russians pushed the vibration technology to new levels in the 1960’s.  Russian scientists studied the German rhythmic neuromuscular stimulation technique, looking for ways to rehabilitate the cosmonauts after their extended stays in outer space.  The competitive space race between the Russians and the United States lead to research and development of all kinds of new products.  With the zero gravity conditions of outer space causing rapid and severe deterioration of muscle tissue and bone mineral density, a remedy to counteract the effects was necessary.  The contrast between the force of earth’s constant gravity and zero gravity of space lead to the theory of “resistance exercise” and refinement of vibration machines.

The cosmonauts suffered muscular atrophy and loss of bone density after months of weightlessness.  The scientists applied rhythmic neuromuscular stimulation and full body vibration to the cosmonauts. They discovered that the cosmonauts recuperated their bone density and increased their muscle tissues quickly and efficiently.

With this kind of success, the scientists made the next logical application to their Olympic athletes.  During the 1960’s the Russian scientist, Dr. Nazarov translated these techniques for athletes.   With the athletes who used the applied vibration techniques, he found increased flexibility and strength.  The Russians also experimented with “biomechanical stimulation” for cosmonauts and athletes. However, this practice uses vibration directly applied to the muscle or tendons.

The Russian athletes were regularly using vibration platforms in training and rehabilitation. They dominated the 1980’s Olympic games.

The German universities continued research on the effects of full body vibration on osteoporosis, increasing muscle mass, improving balance, rehabilitation after injury, weight loss, flexibility and cardiovascular health.

If you can read German or Russian, there is an abundance of papers and research available for study.  The technology and effects of full body vibration have been proved and accepted in Europe for many years.  Vibration platforms are in university gyms, doctor’s offices and health clubs.  Athletes regularly use them for conditioning.

In researching vibration technology for this website, I could find no articles with evidence of current astronauts using vibration exercise in the space stations.  Developed from vibration technology astronauts are using “resistance training.”  To keep muscular strength and be fit, they attach apparatus to their bodies to “walk, as if on a treadmill.”  They don’t want to transfer any vibration to the spaceship.  They use other resistance training in daily 1.5 hour workouts to keep their muscles, flexibility and heart strength.  So if you read that astronauts are using WBV in outer space, this could be erroneous and more research into official documents and websites needs to be done.

That being said, by the late 1990’s the technology behind full-body vibration was accepted and proven in Europe.  Several foreign companies with overtures to fitness companies and big sports teams tried to enter mainstream American markets.  These behemoth machines cost $10-25,000.  Very few people knew anything about vibration platforms.  Millions of dollars spent on advertising to promote vibration platforms as weight loss and exercise equipment didn’t get results, traction and sales.

“Weight loss and exercise” was a narrow view of what vibration plates could offer ordinary people.  Vibration machines have a  range of applications.   Doctors and chiropractors endorse the machines to increase circulation for conditions like arthritis, diabetes, neuropathy and sedentary lifestyles.  Race horses stand on floor plates for rehabilitation after injury and conditioning.

The first machines to arrive stateside were heavy-duty, large and designed for professional athletes.  It wasn’t long before Los Angeles Lakers Shaquille O’Neil, and teams like the Boston Red Sox and the New York Giants used WBV for cross training fitness. This professional equipment was too powerful and expensive for an average person.

Machines are now scaled to be in the home or office; they are much more affordable and convenient.  This is an answer to busy modern lives: safe and easy on the joints, an effective way to tone muscles and a way to work out efficiently in less time.

Today more people are acquainted with the technology.  Many companies are appearing in the whole body vibration market in the United States and not all their machines are the same.  It’s important to be curious, ask questions and do some research.  Find what works for you.